Howard legislators approve hotel tax increase

Howard County’s General Assembly delegation narrowly approved an increase in the local hotel room tax from 5 percent to 7 percent Wednesday.

If the new rate is approved by the full General Assembly, Howard’s tax would equal Anne Arundel’s and be lower than Baltimore County and Baltimore City’s. It would be higher than Carroll County’s rate; Harford County has no hotel tax.

The county’s three senators split 2-1 in favor while the eight delegates voted 5-3 to approve the bill from County Executive Ken Ulman, but not before amending it to codify where the new revenue would go.

All three Howard Republicans opposed the final bill, arguing that taxes should not go up, even though the hotel and tourism industry and the county Chamber of Commerce support the measure.

The only Democrat to vote no was Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a liberal who said she opposed requiring new revenue for tourism when the recession has created such a great need to aid people in crisis in the county.

The legislators rejected an attempt by Republican Sen. Allan H. Kittleman to kill the bill by forcing the county to use existing money to pay for tourism, as well as an amendment by Republican Del. Gail H. Bates that would keep the county from removing the $423,000 in county funds now used to fund tourism in the county if the tax increase passes.

An amendment offered by Ulman ally Del. Guy Guzzone did pass. It codifies that two-thirds of the expected $1.2 million in higher revenue would go to the Tourism Council, and one-third to the Economic Development Authority, but it would allow the county to withdraw current funding. That would match the original intent, which was to split the new money three ways, with the county treasury getting a share.